If Terry Waite can forgive Hezbollah, can Anglicans forgive each other?
Words can scarcely do justice to the humility, grace and Christlikeness demonstrated by Terry Waite in offering peace and reconciliation to representatives of those who kidnapped and tortured him.
A personal representative of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Waite was held hostage by associates of the militant group Hezbollah in Lebanon from 1987 to 1991 after travelling there to try and negotiate the freedom of other westerners who were already being held captive.
He was beaten, endured a mock execution, was chained to a radiator for up to 23 hours a day and endured lengthy solitary confinement.
Now he has returned to Lebanon again and met Ammar Moussawi, a senior figure within Hezbollah, and the group's top foreign affairs official. "I didn't feel at all nervous," Waite says in his account of the meeting. "My encounters in the past had long lost any negative power they had over me, and I was determined to do what I could to make an individual act of reconciliation... Reconciliation between larger groups has to be made up of a thousand smaller acts of reconciliation."
He continues: "I spoke without notes and started by saying that there were three points I wanted to make. First, that the past was the past. Although I had had my difficulties with Hezbollah, I had no hard feelings. Second, my sufferings were nothing compared to the sufferings so many people from all communities in Lebanon had suffered in the past, and thirdly I believed that reconciliation between all groups within the country was the only way forward."
In these words and actions, Terry Waite is following faithfully in the footsteps of Jesus himself, who prayed, "Father, forgive them," as his executioners nailed him to a cross (Luke 23:34). And he is putting into practice the earlier teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, where we are told: "Love your enemies," (Matthew 5:44).
Although Terry Waite tells us that his past experiences had "long lost any negative power they had," it can't have been easy for him to reach the place where he was ready to hold out the hand of forgiveness and reconciliation to associates of those who had kidnapped him.
But if he can do so after all he has been through, is it too much to ask that bickering and embittered Anglicans might be enabled to reach out to one another over the issue of women bishops?
The Church of England is just beginning a fresh process to try and bring new proposals in this matter to its General Synod. The issue itself is far from being a matter of life and death, as Terry Waite's captivity was. Nor, theologically, is it a "primary" gospel issue affecting people's salvation (in contrast with some other contemporary issues such as sexuality, as many would argue 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 makes clear). The 1998 Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops affirmed that "those who dissent from as well as those who assent to the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate are both loyal Anglicans".
In his letter to the Colossians, Paul says: "As God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity."
If Terry Waite can demonstrate these qualities to his former enemies, how can Anglicans fail to do any less for their fellow believers – and find a way forward together?